(Reuters) - Chelsea head coach Antonio Conte dismissed his former Juventus team mate Gianluca Vialli’s claim that he “cannot wait to leave” the Premier League club, and reaffirmed his commitment to seeing out his contract.
Vialli made the comment in his role as a pundit for Sky Sports Italia during Chelsea’s 3-1 defeat by Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday that left Conte’s team eight points behind Spurs in the race to secure Champions League football next season.
“It is not true,” Conte told a news conference on Friday, two days before Chelsea host West Ham United in the league. “Gianluca is a friend but I’m not talking with him for one year, maybe. It is not true.
“It’s very difficult for me but since this season I’m listening to a lot of speculation about my future... but the only truth is I am committed for this club, I have a contract for this club, I’m working very hard for this club.
“This is the only truth. The other speculation is not true.”
Conte’s position has come under scrutiny given his fractious relationship with the club’s hierarchy and owner Roman Abramovich’s propensity to change managers frequently.
The Italian coach, whose contract runs until the end of next season, pointed out he expected Chelsea to struggle when he went public with his displeasure at the club’s failure to strengthen the squad at the start of the campaign.
“I predicted it would be very difficult for me at the start of the season. I predicted this,” he said. “But this is the moment we have to face with the greatest desire to change the situation.”
Conte urged his players to continue fighting until the end of the season but conceded that a top-four finish may be out of their grasp after the damaging defeat by Tottenham.
“We must be realistic to understand that this defeat was a bad defeat for us,” he added. “But at the same time we have to try to do everything to fight for a place in Champions League.
“It won’t be easy, we must be realistic, but... we must show pride, desire, the will to fight until the end of the season. This must be our target in the season now.”
Defenders David Luiz and Ethan Ampadu are out of Sunday’s game, but goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and striker Pedro, who both missed the Tottenham match, could return to the side.
Reporting by Simon Jennings in Bengaluru; Editing by Christian Radnedge